Getting It Done Vs. Embracing the Purpose & Process

Pit bull rescue Lulu (black white with black patch over eye)

My Dog, Our Walks, And The Difference the Right Mindset Makes

I walk my dog nearly every day of the year—unless the weather prevents it. We adopted Lulu, a 5-year-old pit bull mix, from a rescue when she was seven months old. She had a tumultuous start to her life and came to us with impulse control issues and anxiety. She needs a good dose of daily exercise and mental enrichment to combat those challenges. Therefore, our walks consist of more than just short strolls around the block. Generally, we set out at a blood-pumping pace for between a half-hour and an hour and a quarter. Some days, I look forward to our trek. But on other days, it’s a chore. 

During a recent excursion with Lulu, It occurred to me that whether or not I enjoy a walk depends on my mindset going into it. If I view it as merely another task that’s taking up my already limited time, I just want to “get it done.” 

However, when I embrace the purpose and perks of the process, I look forward to and get fulfillment from our walk. 

The Purpose

  • A physical outlet to productively vent Lulu’s energy
  • An opportunity to provide Lulu with mental stimulation 
  • An opportunity to exercise Lulu’s training skills (sit at all curbs, make eye contact with me to look for direction, wait for my OK to stand and go, etc.)

The Perks of the Process

  • Feeling the physical exertion melt tension away
  • Smelling the fresh air
  • Smiling and exchanging “good afternoons” with the people (and other dogs) whom we pass
  • Stepping away from technology
  • Clearing my mind 
  • Brainstorming new ideas
  • Noticing little details about my neighborhood that escaped my attention during my past thousands of walks 
  • Getting in some quality cardio work in addition to the treadmill

When I shift my mindset from viewing walks as something I need to get done to reflecting on their “why” and what I’m experiencing during them, they become an energy source rather than a drain.

This revelation applies to work, too.

How to Get Past a Get It Done Frame of Mind and Build the Right Mindset

How many times have you awoken, looked at your calendar or to-do list for the day, and felt apathy or even dread about one or more tasks or assignments on your agenda? Too many to count? I relate. I also encounter those feelings when I’m in a “just get it done” mindset. 

It can be tough to move out of that frame of mind. Not all projects, nor the tasks associated with them, are fun, exciting, or even pleasant. 

But I find if I am mindful of the purpose and process, there’s less indifference and more fulfillment—even when tackling mundane tasks. 

For example, say I allow myself to think, “I just want to get it done,” when working on content for a client’s blog article on a topic that I’m not overly familiar with or personally interested in. That mindset will set the stage for poor focus, frustration, and a less-than-stellar outcome.

However, when I instead shape my frame of mind by focusing on the purpose and what the process brings to the table, it creates a new view.

The Purpose

  • Helping a valued client achieve their marketing and SEO goals
  • An opportunity to expand my knowledge, thus increasing my value to the client
  • Revenue that will help me achieve my earnings goal

The Perks of the Process

  • Exercising the talent I’ve been blessed with 
  • Discovering new knowledge and broadening my horizons
  • Getting closer to accomplishing all that I’ve set out to achieve for the day/week
  • Generating income to go into our savings account so we can buy that Winnebago Minnie travel trailer we’ve had our eyes on

This sort of mindfulness helps me increase my mental engagement, work more enthusiastically, and create my best work for the client. It provides a sense of accomplishment and pride in my work because I did more than just get it done. 

What’s On Your Mind?

Building the right mindset requires making up your mind to shift your perspective.

How would you apply the purpose and process to a task or project you’re currently working on? Have you discovered other ways to shift your mindset from just “getting it done” to one that’s more productive and satisfying? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

10 Years a Freelance Writer

In January 2010, I walked out of my office at the Windstream Communications’ Brownstown PA building for the last time. The other approximately 15 employees and I in the marketing department knew that day was coming for months in advance. When Windstream, a national corporation, acquired the regional company once called D&E Communications, HR reps met with us to tell us our positions were going away. After a transitional period, we would no longer be needed because folks with similar positions in the Arkansas corporate office would be taking on our responsibilities.

As we left the building on our last day, some of my co-workers shed tears as they carried their boxes of personal belongings from the premises. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time holding back smiles and skipping through the hallway.

It’s not that I disliked my job at D&E Communications/Windstream. As a marketing product manager, I was well suited for the position, and it was well suited to me. But after spending a total of 17 years at the company and in the telecommunications industry, I looked forward to a change. 

I had a plan.

In April of 2010, I officially launched my freelance writing business. Ten years later, I’m still at it, working full-time as a freelance writer. I’m blessed, for sure. However, I don’t believe that the grace of God or of some other universal energy has alone made that possible.

Reality Check

A combination of factors have played a role in my ability to launch and sustain a freelance career path:

  • My husband and I weren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
  • I had a generous severance package from my previous employer.
  • My husband was gainfully employed with a salary that could cover a majority of our expenses as I ramped up my revenue in the first two years.
  • We had good health care insurance through my husband’s employer.
  • I had a room in our house that I could immediately use as a dedicated office space.
  • My husband was fully on board with my decision to freelance. 
  • We aren’t suckers for extravagance, and we’ve never made a habit of living beyond our means.
  • Having been in the marketing department in my previous career, I had professional connections that provided me with some freelance opportunities out of the gate.
  • Writing comes naturally to me.
  • Project management comes naturally to me. 
  • I enjoy working independently and can tune out distractions.

Had a few of these things been missing from the equation, I might have ventured down a different professional route. Hanging my shingle as a freelance writer was exciting but also scary. My salary in my previous job was bringing in 60 percent of our family income. Even with a savings account and severance, I would have had to explore other options after year two if my business income didn’t grow and come reasonably close to my past pay.

A Checklist of Factors That Can Make or Break a Freelance Career

To succeed as a full-time freelance writer, you need some writing chops (stating the obvious). But that alone won’t allow you to stay in business. Many other aspects of your personal situation, background, and personality will affect your freelance success potential, too.

  • Current financial situation
  • Living situation
  • Educational and professional background 
  • Professional connections 
  • Work ethic
  • Tolerance for working alone
  • Business sense
  • Common sense
  • Organizational skills
  • Will to learn and adapt
  • Tolerance for constructive (and sometimes non-constructive) criticism

Not all aspiring freelance writers think about whether their current life scenario, personality traits, and mindset are a good fit. If those things aren’t conducive to working as a freelance writer, it will be especially challenging to make a go of it. 

A 10-Question Self-Assessment for Aspiring Freelance Writers

It’s important to carefully assess your circumstances before deciding to rely on freelancing as your one and only income source. Consider your current life situation and personal characteristics. Are you in a position that will allow you to navigate the possible financial and emotional ups and downs while building your business?

Ask yourself:

1. Do I understand how much it will cost me to operate my freelance business?

2. Do I have enough money saved or another source of funds to fall back on if I’m not making enough to cover my personal and business bills?

3. Am I self-motivated enough to meet project deadlines?

4. Am I organized?

5. Do I have professional connections that I can leverage to find new clients?

6. Do I manage my money well?

7. Do I understand what I have to do to run my freelance business legally? 

8. Can I deal with rejection?

9. Do I have an environment where I can work uninterrupted?

10. Am I focused, or will I let trivial personal tasks distract me from my business responsibilities?

If an honest assessment leads to the conclusion that you’re not financially or otherwise in a place that’s suitable for going freelance full time, you may want to dip your toe in the water on a part-time basis. Or you might consider working as a writer for a marketing agency or other company.  I know several writers who transitioned from freelancing to working as content writers for businesses and marketing firms. They’re successful and very, very happy…and they still do some freelance gigs on the side when time allows. 

After 10 years a freelancer, I find it difficult to imagine myself doing anything else. If some aspects of my personal situation were to change, I believe my business is established enough that I could continue. However, I realize there are no guarantees in life or business. 

Your Turn!

What circumstances made it possible for you—or prevented you—to freelance full-time? I’d love to hear about your journey!

Is Your To-Do List Killing You?

toddler holding head in frustration

I’m a bit of a to-do list junkie. However, those lists can derail rather than boost productivity if you don’t create and manage them effectively. Check out executive business coach Chris Belfi’s expert advice in his article below. He suggests one simple change that will transform your ordinary to-do list into a take-action-and-get-it-done list.


One tip to make your to-do list work for you — not against you

What do you see when you look at your to-do list?

Highly specific action steps — or vague ideas that make you want to bang your head on your desk instead of getting to work?

What does a vague to-do list look like?

This is a common mistake I see advisors make all the time. And the worst part is, their lack of to-do list progress gets self-labeled as laziness and procrastination. So, if you have ever looked at your to-do list in frustration and blamed yourself for not building momentum, perhaps you are not the problem. Maybe your to-do list is sabotaging your efforts. 

Let’s pull up your to-do list right now. Maybe you use a notepad, a checklist on your phone, or a Google Doc. Open it up — and look for offenders that look like this. 

  • Parents’ anniversary
  • Dermatologist
  • Car
  • Roof
  • Paraplanner

Can you notice a pattern between these to-do items?

That’s right. None of these are actions. Items like this are a symptom that you haven’t actually decided what it is you need to do. Let me throw out a prediction: it’s probably not going to get done.

Ready to fix your to-do list?

Great! Let’s look at each of these items and figure out exactly what it is that you need to do. A new list might look something like this. 

  • Login to 1-800-Flowers.com and order flowers for parents
  • E-mail Christine to ask for contact info on her dermatologist
  • Call Mike to schedule tire rotation and oil change for the car
  • Login to Angie’s list to look up 3 local roofing contractors to request repair quotes
  • Review 10 resumes in my files to identify 3 candidates to interview for paraplanner position

When your to-do list is filled with specific, concrete, physical actions, you have set yourself up for success.

I know what you’re thinking.

“But Chris, that’s too much work to boil down every item on my to-do list to a specific, concrete, physical action.”

You’re right. It is hard work. It’s also hard and frustrating to be overwhelmed by vague items on your to-do list. 

And here’s the truth. If you want to make progress on your list, you will have to define those specific actions at some point. By deciding now, you make it much easier to get it done later. It’s in your own best interest to invest energy in defining and clarifying next actions before they get a chance to slow you down.

Too often, you miss opportunities to get something done (and create more time for yourself and your family) because you don’t have enough mental energy to decide exactly what needs to be done.  Don’t make this mistake. Banish vague items from your to-do list — and watch your productivity soar!

This article was originally published on ModelFA.com

Author Bio:

CHRIS BELFI

Chris Belfi is the founder and CEO of MaxPotential Coaching.

His company works with executive-level leaders and business owners and who are drowning in their own success and feel underwater in a sea of things they are supposed to get done. Through proven techniques, MaxPotential Coaching allows executives to take control of their endless to-do list and the other details of their lives and work, go home on time, and create the space to do what matters most to them.

Three Simple Tips to Help You Manage Freelance Projects

Desktop with Macbook, monitor, and notebook, etc.

In an ideal world, all clients would have their act together.

But the real world isn’t ideal most of the time.

  • Some clients don’t know what they want.
  • Some clients change their minds—often.
  • Some clients don’t communicate well.
  • Some clients [Fill in the blank—the list goes on.]

Besides doing your craft well, you also have to manage freelance projects to ensure you, and your clients, stay on track.

While you can’t control everything your clients do–or don’t do–you CAN make sure you have your act together. Here are three simple tips to help you guide assignments successfully.

Steps to Keep Freelance Projects on Track

  1. Get confirmation of all deliverables and determine dependencies BEFORE you start the project and agree to a deadline. Often, projects involve more than just your work. Say I’m writing content for a website. I typically cannot begin until the client (or the client’s web developer) shares the layout of the site and SEO requirements. Communicate that your ability to start or finish your work depends on other project partners pulling their weight. If you have slackers on a project team, you will need additional time to complete your tasks.
  2. Reserve time on your calendar for the different components you need to tackle. Having a plan will save you headaches and help prevent the onset of panic attacks. “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” said a wise man named Benjamin Franklin. Block out periods of time on your calendar for your project tasks. It’s best to overestimate to give yourself some wiggle room. Sometimes, not everything will go as planned.
  3. Ask for feedback as you go. Presenting your entire body of work at the project deadline can lead to disaster. Just one incorrect element or a misunderstanding can snowball, leaving you to face a giant re-do. Instead, check in with clients regularly to present sections of completed work. As you get feedback and input, fine-tune what you’ve done if required. Then use that knowledge to make sure everything you do from that point onward will be spot on (or very close to it). I’ve found this tip invaluable. By checking in along the course of a project, I can nip small issues in the bud immediately. That’s far more manageable than having to go back and tweak an entire body of work.

Keep Calm – And Manage Freelance Projects Like a Boss.

Most freelancing projects are never completely free of challenges. But with a solid project management approach, you can keep a cool head and successfully steer the work process.

What tips do you have for managing your freelance projects?

Four Must-Haves Solopreneurs Need But Don’t Know It

Now That Makes A Difference text on purple and white background

When you start out as a solopreneur, you know you need the usual business essentials to operate professionally: computer, phone, printer, Internet, paper, and so on and so forth. Now in my eighth year of self-employment, I’ve discovered other assets I originally didn’t realize could be so important. Slightly obscure, they might have fallen below your radar, too.

 

Four Business Essentials You Might Not Realize You Need

 

  • A really good umbrella

By all accounts, I’m blessed. Our family has the good fortune to be financially secure; we have what we need and can (within reason) get what we want. BUT we have the most pathetic umbrellas at our house. There’s only one that I’m not mortified to use in public. The others are obnoxious red and white umbrellas the telecom company I once worked for offered as promotional freebies for its now non-existent Internet service provider division. After a recent rainy spell here in eastern Pennsylvania (during which my 9th-grade daughter forgot our only respectable umbrella in her locker at school), I realized I should invest in several more decent umbrellas. It’s a matter of pride—and professional appearance. Own umbrellas that won’t make you look and feel like a panhandler.

 

  • Kick-@s$ closet hangers

Upon launching my freelance business in 2010, I quickly learned being organized personally helps keep all professional endeavors in order, too. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much of a difference a well-designed hanger can make. Fortunately, a colleague recently introduced me to Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers. No more jungle of jumbled wire and bulky plastic hangers that crowd our limited space and let my outfits slip to the floor. I’ve replaced all hangers in our bedroom walk-in closet and my daughter’s closet with these gems, and I’m in the process of swapping out every last hanger in our entire house with them.

 

I’m obsessed.

With more free space in my closet, I can find what I want to wear more easily, and my clothes don’t get wrinkly while hanging. These hangers have saved me time and made it much easier to get out the door on time for meetings. If you have a closet that needs a revamp, definitely check them out.

 

  • A spritz of confidence

Nobody wants to think about this, and I can hardly believe I’m writing about it, but here it “goes.” When you’re on the go and have to go, Poo-Pourri lets you do it in stealth mode. I bought a bottle and intended it as a gag gift for a family Christmas gift swap a few years ago. Intrigued by the concept, I tried it first. The s%@t works (pun intended). Why would anyone ever want to leave home without it? The company sells 2-ounce bottles that you can easily fit into laptop bags or handbags.

 

  • Wiggle room

Despite how well you plan your project schedule, some tasks will require more time than you anticipate they will, and unexpected phone calls, tech issues, etc. will occasionally happen. If you jam-pack your day down to the minute, you’ll never have a buffer zone to address those sorts of surprises. The solution, add some wiggle room (empty slots of time) into your calendar every day. It’s a sanity saver!

 

Nothing fancy above—just practical items that I’ve found can make a difference professionally.

 

What underappreciated must-haves would you add to the list?

 





4 Tips To Help Solopreneurs And Freelancers Survive Tax Time

stressed business woman with hand on head looking down on desk

Another tax season wrapped up for Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writing, LLC.

 

[Sighs with relief.]

 

Over my past seven years as a self-employed freelancer, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’ve learned some lessons—some painless, others excruciating.

 

I’ve listed them here, in hopes they might help you and other solopreneurs avoid stress (and distress) through your tax preparation process.

 

Four Tax Time Survival Tips For Freelancers and Solopreneurs

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Unless you are an accountant or professional tax advisor, I recommend getting help. Reputable professional tax preparers/advisors are on top of the latest changes and rules. They know what business expenses are deductible and whether you’ve categorized them appropriately. Having someone with that knowledge to guide you and raise red flags on bookkeeping that’s amiss can potentially save you from falling into hot water with the IRS and state. And recognize that bigger doesn’t mean better. I used a larger accounting/tax preparation firm, but after a few years of not getting timely responses to questions and being treated like just a number, I switched to a solopreneur tax adviser/preparer. He has been far more thorough and attentive—and less expensive.

 

  1. It pays to keep your act together all year long.

The more organized you are year-round, the more painless the tax return filing process will be. Track your income and expenses when they occur rather than allowing deposit slips and receipts to pile up. For my business, I use QuickBooks online, which I’ve found to have intuitive software with the intelligence to automatically categorize expenses correctly through ‘remembering’ what I’ve entered in the past. Regardless of what system or software you use, you need to put forth effort to make sure you haven’t missed anything that will impact your taxes. Good luck to you if you ignore that responsibility until tax time is upon you!

 

  1. Yours and your clients’ records might not match.

It happens. For example, I discovered a client mistakenly included a payment they made to another vendor in the amount on my 1099. I also had a client who included payments made in the new tax year on the 1099 for the tax year prior. To make incidents like these less of a hassle, consider confirming 1099 amounts with your clients before they send their forms to you. I’ve discovered it’s far easier to verify their records match yours in advance of when they or their accountants prepare and submit their forms. By doing so, if you find discrepancies, you and your clients can investigate and correct them right away. If errors are in your clients’ records, you’ll save them the trouble of issuing a corrected 1099. If the errors are in your records, you’ll be able to make the correction and ensure you’re including accurate income amounts on your tax return.

 

  1. What you don’t know could hurt you.

Twice—that’s right, twice—in my seven years of self-employment, I underestimated my revenue and I failed to pay enough tax. As a result, I had to write a substantive check to Uncle Sam upon filing my taxes for those years. That hurt—especially because I had to also cut a check for my quarterly estimated tax payments by April 15. Double whammy! My suggestion to you is to watch your net income closely and adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments if needed so you’re not stuck owing a bundle at tax filing time. In my case, I’ve found checking in with my tax advisor mid-year has helped. I send my profit and loss statement and other info as requested to him at least once during the tax year, so he can let me know if I should increase or decrease my quarterly payments.

 

Keep Calm: And Make Tax Time Less Taxing

Paying taxes is not the most glamorous part of having your own business, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a massively difficult ordeal. I hope considering these lessons learned along with getting the help of a qualified tax advisor will help you minimize some of the stress that accompanies tax time.

 

Your turn! What tips can you share with other small business owners to help them make tax time less tumultuous?





What if? “La La Land”-inspired Food For Thought

If you wander back in time through my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll find evidence I fell in love with the movie “La La Land.”

I’m often skeptical when a film gets obscene amounts of accolades, but this one deserves every single ounce of the kudos heaped Screen shot of Dawn Mentzer's Facebook post about movie La La Landupon it.

It’s a story of chasing dreams, the sting of reality, love found, hopes dashed, and fresh starts.

It’s also a story of “what ifs.” It’s a story of looking back and wondering how life and career would be different if we had done just one thing differently.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? Personally and professionally we wonder what our lives would be like if we had made other choices.

What if I had said that more tactfully?

What if I hadn’t lost my temper?

What if I had gone to that networking event?

What if I had quoted a different rate for that project?

What if I had said “no”?

What if I had said “yes”?

What if I had taken my time?

What if I had been more careful?

What if I hadn’t jumped to conclusions?

What if I had told the truth?

What if I hadn’t been so stubborn?

What if I had spoken my mind?

What if I had tried to be more understanding?

What if I had tried harder?

What if I had been more caring?

What if I hadn’t given up?

Every decision we make, every action we take—no matter how seemingly insignificant—affects how the future will progress. Turning down a coffee meeting, posting a contradictory comment on someone’s social media post, deleting an email before reading it…you never know when something you decide to do—or not do—will make or break opportunities and shape how your relationships develop.

What if we all put a little more thought into the little decisions we make every day?

Your turn: What “what ifs” make you wonder how things might be different today if you had made some other choices yesterday?





What To Do When You’re Not In The “Write” Mind

It’s not easy to admit, but I confess that I’ve been in a bit of a mental and motivational slump where my blog is concerned. Oh, Pen with question marks implying writer's blockI’ve been writing plenty. Just not here.

 

In the past month, my work for clients included…

 

  • 16 blog posts
  • Copy for an email campaign
  • Content for a print newsletter
  • Project managing and editing a magazine for a local medical society
  • Brainstorming and writing abstracts for 10 posts of a “disruptive” nature
  • Content for two websites
  • Two press releases
  • Two industry editorials
  • A corporate retirement announcement
  • Two case studies
  • And a few other odds and ends to boot.

 

I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs or spending hours meandering around town playing Pokémon Go. Still, I’ve beat myself up about not following through with tending to my responsibilities here.

 

This post isn’t intended to show you how busy I’ve been, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes something’s gotta give. Occasionally, you might find you’re not in the “write” mind or you have put forth so much effort elsewhere that you have nothing left to give to your blog. Feeling guilty or less of a professional because of it won’t change the situation.

 

The moral of the story: Not having the drive and determination to write for your blog doesn’t make you a slacker.

 

Fortunately, my business hasn’t seemed to suffer as a result of my silence in this space, but if you count on your company blog to draw in traffic and produce leads the same might not be true for you.

 

So, what can you do if you’re overwhelmed with your other business obligations and undermotivated to write for your blog?

 

A few ideas:

 

  • Schedule dedicated time for the task. Just knowing you’ve planned for it and aren’t cutting into the time you should be doing something else might help you put your mind to it.

 

  • Pick a topic you’re pumped up about. When you’re enthused about the subject matter, it’s far more enjoyable to write about it.

 

  • Break up the work. Instead of sitting down for hours to write a post, do it in three shorter sessions: One for research and jotting down rough ideas; a second for organizing those ideas and writing a draft; and a third for editing and fine tuning.

 

  • Hire someone to write for you. If you know you absolutely won’t get to it or if you just plain aren’t “feeling it,” don’t force it. Your time will be better spent on other work that’s critical to your business success and you’ll have the posts you need to keep your marketing efforts on track.

 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a blog writing slump, find some comfort knowing you’re not alone. It happens to all of us—and you have ways around it.

 

Your turn: What frustrates you most about writing slumps? How do you overcome them?

 





The Nitty Gritty Of Non-Disclosure Agreements For Your Small Business

I’ve been asked to sign—and have asked others to sign—non-disclosure agreements in the course of doing business with others. Non-Disclosure Agreement GraphicBut are they really necessary or simply a formality? Nellie Akalp, who is a small business expert and CEO of CorpNet (an online legal document filing service), recently wrote a post that covers why NDAs are important.

 

As solopreneurs and small business owners, it helps to know what legal documents might be in our best interest to secure when working with individuals and other companies. So, I asked Nellie if she’d share more about NDAs with my readers. I believe this Q&A can help answer some of the questions you might have on the topic.

 

  1. What is the purpose of a non-disclosure agreement? How can it protect your business?

 

An NDA, or non-disclosure agreement, is a contract that binds someone to keep a secret. In the course of running your business, you may give contractors, vendors, or other business partners access to “behind the scenes” information that you’d prefer to keep private. An NDA creates a confidential relationship to prevent people from revealing any of that private information.

 

  1. What circumstances dictate when a non-disclosure agreement is necessary?

 

This is a really important question, because small businesses often think that they don’t have any kind of “confidential” information. You may not be building rocket ships or safeguarding the recipe for Diet Coke, but you still have sensitive information that should stay in house. Examples are client information, your annual marketing strategy, financial data, or an analysis about your competitors. Let’s say you hire a contractor to help you with some client work in the background. You might not want them to contact your clients directly and disclose their role.

 

  1. Who should you ask to sign your non-disclosure agreement? (i.e. vendors, project partners, etc.)

 

Anyone who might have access to sensitive information. Think about vendors, contractors, freelancers, and business partners. An NDA is such a standard procedure in business operations these days; most people won’t think twice if you ask them to sign one.

 

  1. Are there any particular types of businesses that need a non-disclosure agreement more than others?

 

Certainly. Tech companies or anyone who manufactures a product will have very specific needs to keep their manufacturing process secret. Or, if you keep any confidential information about your customers and clients, you’ll need to have a solid privacy policy. But, as I said above, small businesses of any kind probably have some kind of sensitive information that should be protected.

 

  1. At what point during your business relationship should you ask for your non-disclosure agreement to be signed?

 

Great question! In most cases, the best time to introduce the NDA and have it signed is at the point of hiring the contractor or signing the vendor/contractor agreement. In some cases, you may need to reveal company information during the interview or exploration phase (meaning, before you decide to work with someone). In this case, you should have an NDA signed before giving anyone access to your information.

 

  1. What are the key elements every non-disclosure agreement should include?

 

A typical NDA should include the following elements. First, it should specify what kind of information should be kept secret. Some people choose to keep this as broad as possible, but I think it’s a good idea to be specific about what can’t be disclosed. The reason for this is it makes sure the other party realizes what their obligations are and what information they need to keep private. In some cases, contractors or vendors may not even realize they shouldn’t talk about your new website or contact a client directly. Remember, the whole point of the NDA is to make sure your proprietary information stays private; spelling out the details will help ensure all parties are on the same page with how to handle information.

 

Other elements in an NDA should be the length of time that information should remain confidential, what happens if there’s a breach, and what method of resolution should be taken when there’s a breach (e.g. court or arbiter). You can find digital templates for NDAs online. Just search on Google for some samples; one example is Upcounsel.

 

  1. What should you do if you discover someone violates the terms and conditions of your non-disclosure agreement?

 

Hopefully, your NDA specifies how disputes or breaches should be resolved. Many small businesses opt to use arbitration rather than the court system. And, while I believe that small business owners can handle much of their legal matters on their own today, this is one situation where you should retain an attorney to assist you with recovering any damages. If the other party is found guilty of breaching the contract, they can be held responsible to pay those attorney fees (note, this is another good point to spell out in the NDA).

 

  1. Are there any other tips or advice you might share about non-disclosure agreements? 

 

An NDA is a very easy legal document to produce and ask to have signed. As I mentioned before, it has become standard practice these days so there’s very little reason not to use an NDA with each new vendor/contractor/partner relationship. With that said, it’s important to realize that an NDA is just a document; it’s not a 100% guarantee that someone won’t misuse your confidential information. The bottom line is you need to use common sense and a little caution whenever sharing potentially sensitive details with others.

 

I hope this information has helped you better understand NDAs, and I thank Nellie for sharing her expertise. Of course, this post is not meant to provide legal guidance or serve as a substitution for professional counsel. Whenever creating or signing any legal document you should consider consulting a trusted legal professional for guidance. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Nellie Akalp, CorpNet CEO

Nellie Akalp is a serial entrepreneur, small business advocate, speaker and author.  She is the founder & CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs start, grow and maintain a business.





Four Tips To Help You Stop Running Your Small Business In Circles

As we start and grow our businesses, many of us adopt practices and take on administrative baggage that might hold us back fromFrustrated child at desk working toward our goals and vision. With the vast majority of 2016 still ahead of you, now is the time to take an honest look at your business and ask yourself, “What should I be doing differently?”

 

So, where do you begin? Here are a few simple ideas to get you started…

 

Four Ways To Save Time And Streamline Your Small Business

 

  1. Focus!

 

If you think you’re doing your business a favor by multitasking, think again. A Stanford University study revealed that multitaskers have a hard time filtering out irrelevant information, and they’re more distracted and less productive. Give up on trying to multitask—it’s a surefire way to mess up. Focus on one thing at a time to get more done, more accurately, and in less time.

  1. Use your own photos or source from a site that has clearly stated attribution information.

 

When you pull images from the Internet for your blog and social media, you may or may not easily be able to tell who they belong to, what rights you have to use them, or what attribution requirements apply. Avoid running down a rabbit hole to chase the information you need by using your own photos or finding an online source of images that has very clear use and attribution rules. When I’m not using my own photos, I use freedigitalphotos.net (they have large selection of free photos). I also regularly purchase images from Canva—at $1 per image, you can’t beat the economy of their offering.

 

  1. Don’t let paperwork pile up.

 

Even though we live in a digital world, we still have a lot of cold, hard sheets of paper floating around our offices. In fact, approximately 50 percent of the waste generated by businesses is from paper. Many of us still keep printed copies of client agreements, invoices, receipts, and other documentation.

 

If you let your paperwork pile up, the process of filing it in its proper place can become a gargantuan endeavor that requires hours of your time. The bigger the pile, the more work you’ll have on your hands because you’ll need to sort through and organize it before you can actually put it in its place. Instead, place it where it belongs within hours or just a few days of when it hit your desk to avoid a marathon cleanup session down the road.

 

  1. Give your business a raise.

 

Many of us grandfather long-standing clients into rates from years gone by. It’s a wonderful way to show your appreciation for their continued business. Unfortunately it can cost you when your services are in greater demand and you discover your time spent on lower-paying clients doesn’t allow you time to take on more lucrative work.

 

If that’s the case, you may want to consider raising your rates to existing customers. I recently did this and found that overall my clients (with one exception) were fully accepting and understanding. Just be sure to review the contracts you have in place before taking that leap. And give your clients plenty of advance notice and an explanation as to why you’re increasing your pricing.

 

Running a more efficient small business doesn’t always require making big changes. Little tweaks can mean a world of difference in how much you can accomplish and how smoothly you can tackle your day-to-day to dos.

 

What changes will you make this year to streamline your business and make it more successful?

 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net